Thursday, July 23, 2015

Chiefs down Lakers 12-5 to clinch first place

Brandon Miller had to switch back to this mask mid-game after he was called for illegal equipment for still sporting his NLL cage in Tuesday's game against Peterborough. The Chiefs still won handily, 12-5. (Photo: Tim Prothero)
The Six Nations Chiefs played host to the Peterborough Lakers Tuesday night with a chance to clinch first place in the Major Series Lacrosse regular season. They did more than that. With a dominating 12-5 win, the Chiefs removed any doubt that they are the favourites to win their third straight MSL title and head out west to vie for their third straight Mann Cup.

The game was close through the first period; when Cory Vitarelli's shot clanged off the post one second before the buzzer, Peterborough still trailed 3-2 but were right in the game, thanks largely to Matt Vinc's early sharpness in turning aside a number of Chiefs opportunities.

Six Nations started to get to Vinc in the second period, though, and Peterborough couldn't respond. Jeff Shattler, Ryan Benesch, Dhane Smith and Randy Staats scored unanswered goals in a 10-minute stretch to give the Chiefs a stranglehold they wouldn't release.

Stephen Keogh had a pair of shorthanded goals—one in the last minute of the second period and one five minutes into the third—to further deflate the Lakers' attempts to come back. Even getting a 5-minute major against Brandon Miller because he had an illegal cage on his goalie helmet didn't help the Peterborough cause. While Vitarelli banged home a power-play goal on the resulting 5-on-3 power play (Peterborough requested the call after Staats had taken an interference penalty), the Chiefs came out of the whole thing even after Staats buried a shorthanded marker during the major.

If anything, the penalty call may have just given the Chiefs even more motivation for a potential finals matchup against Peterborough. “If you call it, it's a penalty and they decided to call it in a 10-4 game. I don't really understand,” Miller said after the game. “Some people don't realize that that kind of stuff can really go a long way down the road. For them to do it tonight I thought was a little bush league. It just kind of motivates you to play a little bit harder against them every night. I don't think teams really understand the reverse effect that can happen with calls like that. It fires me up, anyway.”

The strategy might have been more effective if it had resulted in Miller being ejected from the game, rather than just getting the major, because the Chiefs didn't have a backup at the game and would have had to turn to one of their runners to tend the pipes (a reprise of Colin Doyle in the Mann Cup, anyone?)—assuming they had another mask that he could have donned. As it turned out, they were able to replace the cage on Miller's helmet and keep him in the net.

Lakers' Head Coach Mike Hasen didn't pull a lot of punches in his assessment of his team's play. “We weren't here. We were here in spirit, maybe, but mentally. We took a lot of undisciplined, uncharacteristic stuff and we let that control us instead of just fighting through things and playing,” Hasen said. “We need from top to bottom to be smarter. As a staff, we've got to change things up when things aren't working and we need guys that we rely on to do their jobs. Everyone's got a job to do and tonight, top to bottom, nobody did their job.”